To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum from the first “Jurassic Park” film — “the executives at Universal were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a ‘Jurassic World’ sequel, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is the sequel to the 2015 blockbuster that confirmed Chris Pratt as a leading man and (for a time) owned multiple box office records. This time around, with the island of Isla Nublar set to fall victim to a volcanic eruption, Owen (Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) must return to the abandoned theme park to try and rescue the remaining creatures. J.A. Bayona takes over director duties from Colin Trevorrow, who returns to write the screenplay with Derek Connolly, as Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones and Isabella Sermon all join the cast.
Let’s talk about the good first. There are brief moments throughout the film that play almost like a horror movie, and I think that is when director Bayona felt most comfortable, which makes sense since his breakout film was “The Orphanage” in 2007. Dinosaurs are killing machines, there shouldn’t really be a scene in the entire film that doesn’t have a sense of threat surrounding, and Bayona makes good use of shadows and sound to convey that fear.
Pratt is too good for us and he is too good for movies like this, but he tries his best to make the best of a weak script. Occasionally his charm bleeds through and he gets one fight scene to flex his muscles, but most of the time you can see the embarrassment in his eyes and the “this is paying for your beach house” in his line delivery. Sermon, an English actress who plays the young granddaughter of Cromwell (who in-turn is playing an old partner of Jurassic Park founder John Hammond), speaks only half of her lines in American, so they literally added a scene where her nanny is struggling to teach her how to speak with an English accent to try and cover for it. It’s funny to realize, but lazy by the filmmakers.
The first “Jurassic World” had its moments of cringe humor, but also some comedic moments that worked (“I was with the Navy, not the Navajo!”). Here, near everything is a swing and a miss, from the jokes to the over-the-top acting (mainly by a shrieking Smith). The script here just felt like a first draft, with unpolished dialogue and numerous conveniences, and they clearly assumed this thing would crank out a billion dollars no matter the quality.
What truly hinders this film, however, is just that we’ve seen this all done before, and it has either been done better or are parts of previous “Jurassic” films that people noted as not liking. Take the dinosaurs off the island? Didn’t work in “The Lost World,” but let’s try it again here. Create a super dinosaur with a grab-bag of powers that work for the plot? Really annoyed some people in the last film, but that made $1.5 billion so what do people know? And so on.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a massive letdown, and wastes a great director and charismatic star. There are a handful of thrills and exciting moments, as well as those darker bits I mentioned, but they just never mesh and the sense of “been there, done that” is more powerful now more than ever. As Goldblum is asked during a Senate hearing, “should these be left to die?” and if they’re talking about the “Jurassic Park” franchise then to that I say, maybe it is time.
Critic’s grade: C–.